Sunday, August 3, 2014

Game of the Day (8/2/14)

Padres 3, Braves 2 (12). Atlanta's Ervin Santana and San Diego's Ian Kennedy are both right-handed starters in their late-prime type years (Kennedy is 29, Santana 31), who have career ERA+ figures of exactly 100 and are within a few points of that mark this year. So it would seem fair to classify this as a pretty even pitching matchup.

The Braves jumped out to a swift lead in the first, as BJ Upton walked, moved to second on a groundout, and was doubled home by Freddie Freeman. Santana was perfect in the bottom of the first. In the second, Kennedy worked around an Andrelton Simmons walk and a sac bunt, while Santana allowed singles to Tommy Medica and Will Venable; Venable took second on the throw that failed to keep Medica from reaching third, but a flyout, an intentional walk, and a foul bunt strikeout from Kennedy (with two outs and the bases loaded... OK, sure) ended the inning without a run coming across.

Kennedy walked Freeman in the third; he was the only batter to reach for either team in the inning. In the fourth, Kennedy managed around a hit by Chris Johnson, while Santana walked Jedd Gyorko and Venable, then stranded both of them. Kennedy then walked Tommy La Stella in the fifth and left him on as well. Santana retired the Padres in order in the bottom of the fifth, including the pinch hitter they sent up in Kennedy's place. Blaine Boyer relieved in the sixth and started his outing with a 1-2-3 effort.

A Gyorko HBP and a Medica double put Padres at second and third with one out in the bottom of the sixth, but Santana recovered to strand them both. Boyer allowed singles to Santana and La Stella in the seventh before being pulled with two outs as part of a double switch and extensive defensive realignment (a new center fielder came in, all three outfielders changed places, and the first baseman left to be replaced by the previous left fielder); Alex Torres came on and struck out Freeman to leave the runners at the corners.

The Padres finally broke through in the seventh. Rene Rivera led off the inning with a single, and a sacrifice and a groundout moved him to third. Yangervis Solarte then singled Rivera home to tie the game. A Seth Smith single and a Gyorko walk loaded the bases and chased Santana in favor of Jordan Walden; Walden's second pitch promptly went wild, allowing Solarte to scamper home with the go-ahead run. Kevin Quackenbush took over in the top of the eighth, and the Braves retied the game on a Jason Heyward single, a wild pitch, a walk, and a Johnson RBI single. One out later, San Diego double switched yet again, with Yasmani Grandal replacing Medica and becoming the Padre used at first base and Joaquin Benoit coming on to finish the inning.

Anthony Varvaro worked around a Grandal walk to throw a scoreless eighth. Freeman singled and was balked to second in the ninth before Benoit stranded him. James Russell made his Braves debut in the bottom of the ninth; he allowed an Alexi Amarista single, saw him bunted to second, and intentionally walked Solarte before David Carpenter replaced him with two outs and sent the game to extras.

Dale Thayer allowed a leadoff double to Heyward in the tenth, but stranded him at third. Carpenter was perfect in the bottom of the inning. Emilio Bonifacio pinch hit in the eleventh, greeting Tim Stauffer with a single (his first hit for the Braves), then stealing second only to be doubled off on a La Stella flyout. Craig Kimbrel took over in the bottom of the eleventh; Rivera greeted him with a single and was bunted to second, but Simmons then threw Rivera out when he tried for third on a grounder.

The Braves mounted their biggest threat yet in the top of the twelfth, starting with a Freeman single and a Justin Upton double. Heyward was intentionally walked to load the bases with nobody out. Evan Gattis then grounded into a 5-2-3 double play, and Johnson grounded out as well to end the inning. Having been granted a reprieve, the Padres responded in the bottom of the inning, with the help of some uncharacteristic Kimbrel wildness. The Atlanta relief ace walked Solarte, Gyorko, and Chris Nelson to load the bases, and Venable then singled Solarte home to end the game.

Extra innings, late rallies, runners left on (14 for each team), and a multitude of scoring chances (29 combined at bats with runners in scoring position, though only 5 hits). Throw in the Braves failing to score after loading the bases with nobody out in the twelfth, and it all adds up to a WPL of 6.93, the tenth-best mark of the 2014 season so far.

Even beyond its high overall quality, the most distinctive feature of the game came in the final half-inning. Craig Kimbrel does not often walk 3 batters in an inning - it was the first time he'd done so this year, and he hadn't done it at all in the previous two full seasons. Which means that the last time he issued a trio of free passes was on September 28, 2011, also known as The Greatest Last Day of the Regular Season in Baseball History - unless you're a Braves or Red Sox fan, at least.

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